Don’t Let Natural Disasters Become an Identity Theft CatastropheMarch 12, 2018
No matter where you live, disaster can strike anytime, whether it’s a major storm, fire, or flood, or a calamity such as a house fire or broken pipes that force you out of your home for a time. When you’re dealing with an emergency, the last thing you want to think about is identity theft, but a disaster can put your identity at risk in multiple ways. Thieves and looters can steal personal information from an empty house, scammers can take advantage of the chaos to steal personal information, and businesses may not follow proper privacy procedures during disaster recovery.
Every household should be prepared for disasters with extra food, water, flashlights, etc. By taking a few additional steps, you can help prevent a natural disaster from also turning into an identity emergency:
- Have a “bug-out” kit. Gather important documents or copies of them in a water-proof file box, a backpack, or other container that you can easily grab if you have to leave home in a hurry. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) website gives a comprehensive list of the documents you should take with you, and they also discuss the documents you will need to apply for emergency assistance. You probably also have electronic records on your computer and other devices, so take all of those with you (don’t forget your chargers!). While you’re displaced, keep your documents with you or locked up securely at all times. Don’t leave them in your car!
- Keep copies of important documents on your phone, making sure that your phone is properly secured with a strong password and the right privacy settings.
- Protect the documents you’ll leave behind. If there are financial statements or other documents that you would have to leave behind in an emergency, store them in locked, waterproof, fireproof container such as a safe. Scammers have been known to steal personal information to file false FEMA claims.
- Minimize physical documents with personal information. As much as possible, go electronic with financial and credit card statements, and shred paper statements as soon as possible, so there aren’t many copies of personal information around your home. That way, there will be less that has to be secured.
- Be alert for scammers targeting you with FEMA assistance scams. FEMA recommends that you file emergency relief claims yourself, and never use a service offering to file for you.
Unfortunately, no matter how well you protect your personal documents, your information can still fall prey to looters or hackers because businesses may have to evacuate offices full of their customers’ personal information, and their back-up computer systems are not always secure. So, the final piece of advice is to get identity protection coverage. That way, you can deal with the aftermath of the disaster, and if you need them, experts will be standing by to handle any identity theft problems that crop up.